Tumble & Fall

Book review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Tumble & Fall Book Poster Image
End-of-the-world story doesn't live up to its premise.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Some references to literature, philosophy, and how asteroids work.

Positive Messages

As an end-of-the-world story, the messages are rather obvious: Make every moment count; tell people you love them; have faith that others love you; don't let doubt get in the way of happiness; and share in the joys (even if they are short-lived) of community, romance, and family.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Zan's parents and Sienna's father love their children unconditionally, even when the teens opt not to spend as much time with them. Zan is single-mindedly devoted to the memory of her dearly departed boyfriend, but that love clouds her ability to stay focused on the living -- for example, her parents.


A natural disaster -- an asteroid -- is heading toward Earth. There's some gun violence, including the kidnapping of a teen boy, a hunting trip, and some moments when people act a bit unruly, but it's never as ruthless as you'd imagine, under the circumstances.


Several passionate kisses and a few references to sex: Zan recalls being with her high-school love; Caden loses his virginity; and a father "presents" his teen son with a prostitute, but they don't end up having sex.


Occasional strong language including "f--k," "s--t," "a--hole," and other swear words.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

References to people -- including teens -- drinking and enjoying illegal substances, but given the context it's understandable and not gratuitous.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Tumble & Fall is a natural-disaster story, because it follows the week leading up to an asteroid's collision with Earth. The book chronicles the reactions of three Martha's Vineyard teens and contains some mature scenes of partying, kissing, and even virginity losing -- as one might expect from adolescents facing the end of the world. Occasional strong language ranges from "s--t" and "f--k" to "a--hole." The three protagonists have various emotional issues and family dysfunction to deal with, so the story will make readers think about what they would want to do or focus on if they were faced with a similar catastrophe.

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What's the story?

TUMBLE & FALL is a story about the end of the world with a premise similar to the movies Armageddon and Deep Impact: An asteroid named Persephone is barreling toward Earth and is predicted to collide with the planet -- in only seven days. Three Martha's Vineyard teens deal with the impending apocalypse with wildly differing priorities: Zan, still grieving the loss of her high school love Leo, embarks on a last-minute trip to the mainland to figure out if his love was true; formerly suicidal Sienna has been released from a group home to live with her dad but ends up falling for a guy she meets; and Caden is mysteriously kidnapped by his long-lost father and just wants to get back home.

Is it any good?

Alexandra Coutts has written a catastrophe story that doesn't in any way focus on the widespread chaos that would befall Earth if a huge asteroid were about to strike it. There's no page-turning immediacy and no pulse-pounding scenes of masses trying to escape or survive (The 5th Wave this is not). Instead, Coutts offers a more thoughtful, gentle tale of how three very different teens deal with their own last week on Earth. By setting the book mostly on the lovely New England island of Martha's Vineyard, Coutts doesn't bother with too much of the horrors going on in the rest of the world.

What starts out as a promising idea fails to live up to the grand premise, though, mostly because the three narratives are so unevenly developed, and the three characters' choices are often so difficult to understand. Instead of it seeming romantic that Zan would leave her parents to go on a mission to find out if the perfect, genius surfer poet Leo cheated on her, it's horrifying (at least from an adult perspective) that she'd just up and leave her parents (who are busy creating one last piece of art for the apocalypse). Sienna's desire to find love -- however misguided and certainly brief -- is slightly more palatable, but Caden's crazy story with his rich, estranged father never really works. To make a story about the possibility of The End work, an author needs to make you care. And, although Coutts isn't a bad writer, the slow pace and the characters' incomprehensible decisions make it difficult to invest in this story.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the popularity of young adult novels with multiple points of view. Were you interested in all three story lines? Did you prefer one character to the others?

  • How does this book compare to other end-of-the-world tales? Were you surprised by the pace, given its genre?

  • Reactions to Armageddon range from adamant denial to thoughtful acceptance. How do you think you would react to such earth-shattering news?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love thrillers and science fiction

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